Litany of Humility
February 21, 2008
Written oh about 100 years ago is this Litany of Humility. I’m not Catholic, but I love reading the great Catholic minds since they seem to have a lock on such rich material. In my field of work it’s hard to fully embrace humility. Our stock and trade is notoriety. Getting the masses to view our stories means publicity, distribution and recognition are part of doing my job right. It requires exposure to a huge audience and doing business with people who are famous often for just looking good.
The Litany of Humility is a regular prayer of mine. It helps keep me in my place. In case you think it’s cute or humble that I would pray this, just know that I am arrogant. There, you’ve got that on me. When you say that all Christians are fakes, arrogant, evil etc. you’ll hear a hearty “Yessah!” from me. You sure nailed me. So any form of good, humility, regular prayer, wisdom or love shouldn’t be accredited to me as if I’m the end all source of this stuff. I don’t know if you know what you’re made of but I know what I’m made of and there’s a good reason why I’m not the author of the Litany of Humility. Mankind wouldn’t need a prayer of humility if we didn’t have such a general problem with pride in the first place.
Humility isn’t just a problem of the famous, if you’ll read this litany with me, you’ll see that even the anonymous loner can have a problem with a lack of humility. Not only do our good qualities transcend us, so do our bad qualities. This is our DNA. It’s a ball of shit that testifies against us– well, against me.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
deliver me, Jesus.
Here’s the first grouping’s structure. It’s calling out the kinds of things I normally desire. From these desires these groupings begin and end with “deliver me”…
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
deliver me, Jesus.
Some of these seem kind of reasonable; love, honor, praise, consulted, approval. But like all good things they are twisted by desire. It’s good to be honored but it’s not virtuous to desire it. In fact, we tend not to praise those who desire to be praised. So the person who desires to be praise is actually less praiseworthy.
The more I desire these things, the less likely I will get them. It’s implied that we naturally want these things and cannot deliver ourselves of this desire. That’s why we have to turn to a supernatural source of deliverance–and He’s got a name and it’s probably the last name you’d ever want to say in a time of pride and arrogance.
The poetic structure is beautiful, simple but loaded with meaning. It goes from a deliverance of desires to that last sentence of the group where we go to a deliverance of fear. It also throws down a challenge…that if we do not seek Jesus’ deliverance from these desires that we fear being humiliated. This brings us to the next grouping…the fears:
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I,
Opposite of desire, these are things we fear for ourselves. In fearing these attributes, we might not grasp humility. These are also terms of victimhood where we feel justified to stand proud. Why am I not humble? Because I was forgotten, ridiculed or wronged and standing proud is my just revenge.
Personally, I find these far harder to deal with. I don’t know if this is universal or just me, but I tend to struggle with these fears more than I struggle with the previous desires.
But the last line not only denotes a change of phrasing, it also has a different solution. Notice how in the first grouping to overcome desire we ask Jesus for help. This time, the solution is to value the love of others more than myself. This knocked me on my ass and instead of just reading some guy’s beautiful words I felt like I was peering into a wise man’s blueprint for mankind.
How do I overcome fear? Hope that others may be loved more than me. Actually “hope” is the wrong word because now the poetic irony comes full circle. Here the words turn to focus on others, and we need Jesus to put this new, good desire into us.
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That in the opinion of the world,
others may increase, and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I,
provided that I may become as holy as I should.
– Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val
This kicks my ass every time I read it and I’ve been over these words hundreds of times. Not that you should be impressed with my humility. My desire is for you to be esteemed more than me. May you increase as you read the Litany of Humility. It’s a kick in my pride’s crotch.